Things That Matter

Cuban Man Sentenced To 14 Years For Kidnapping And Extortion Of Undocumented Immigrants

The man who led a group of criminals to prey on and kidnap undocumented women and children in an extortion scheme has been sentenced to 14 years in prison by a federal judge. Francisco Betancourt, a Cuban immigrant, led a group of other Latino, Spanish-speaking men to target Central American immigrants, who had just arrived, disoriented, at bus stops in New York City, seeking to be reunited with their families. Betancourt would use his Latinidad to gain the immigrants’ trust, then, steal their bus tickets, and coerce them to get into a cab that would ultimately cost their families well over $1,000 in “cab fees.”

District Attorney Judge John H. Durham announced Thursday that Betancourt was sentenced in New York, New York by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill to 168 months of imprisonment in the Bridgeport facility, followed by three years of supervised release. Betancourt will be 84 years old by the time he is released from prison.

Francisco Betancourt conspired with three other Latino men to carry out the kidnappings of primarily young mothers with children.

Credit: @TheWomensWatch / Twitter

“The victims included women, men, and children from Central American countries who did not speak English and were seeking asylum in the U.S,” according to a statement by the US District of Connecticut Attorney’s office. “Some of the victims planned to travel from New York to Connecticut. Telling the victims that a connecting bus was not available and that they would provide transportation, Betancourt and others coerced the victims into vehicles. The co-conspirators would then drive the victims around, sometimes for hours, and refused to release them until they or their families agreed to pay the co-conspirators an exorbitant amount of money, on average more than a $1000.”

Betancourt used his Latinidad to victimize fellow immigrants.

Credit: @migrantfreedom / Twitter

Betancourt allegedly fled Cuba on the Mariel boatlift that famously aided a mass emigration of Cubans in the 1980s. Prosecutors allege that Betancourt was one of the prisoners, convicted of theft, that Castro ejected from the island and put on a ship with other freed inmates and mentally ill people to Mariel, Florida. Betancourt has served two prison sentences in the United States since his arrival. 

His victims were often young women traveling with children. They were nearly at the end of a long, treacherous journey, often having traveled from their dangerous homes in Central America, through Mexico, and past the U.S. border. Once granted asylum, or strapped with tracking ankle devices, border authorities put them on a bus from the border to New York City. Days of traveling later, they have one more bus to catch before being reunited with family.

At times, Betancourt’s co-conspirators would pose as immigration officers to further intimidate the victims.

Credit: @icegov / Twitter

Betancourt and his crime gang could spot the families from a mile away, having been immigrants themselves. They would steal their bus tickets and immigration forms and tell them that they worked for ICE and had arranged a taxi cab service instead. With their contact information in hand, from their immigration forms, they would call their relatives and request a taxi fare (ransom) for $2,000. Often, the families didn’t have enough money on hand, and they would settle for hundreds of dollars less. Because the relatives were often undocumented, they would never report the crime. 

Half of the four-person gang of criminals have been sentenced, with another two co-conspirators awaiting their sentences.

Pascual Rodriguez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, had already been sentenced in July to nearly 12 years in prison. Upon his release, his custody will be transferred to ICE, which will promptly deport him. Carlos Antonio Hernandez and Lucilo Cabrera have both been convicted in the extortion scheme, but are awaiting their sentences. Meanwhile, Betancourt is likely to live out his remaining days in prison.

Meanwhile, folks are pointing out the similarities between Betancourt’s crimes and Trump’s policies. 

Credit: Twitter

“Strangely enough, Trump is doing the exact same thing……” tweeted Raul A. Maestri, Jr (@itsgoodtoberaul). “Can he charge Trump with the same?” asks Justin Clay (@jclaywow32). “I hope that man was named Donald J Trump,” tweeted @LindaMadison10. Trump’s administration has seen an increase in privatization of immigrant detention facilities. The stricter the punishments placed on immigrants, the more money private detention centers receive from the federal government. 

Trump’s policies have drastically increased the number of migrants in detention and privatized detention facility political action committees like the GEO Group Inc contribute 89 percent of their political donations to Republicans.

READ: Senior Border Patrol Officer Gets To Retire After Allegedly Kidnapping And Sexually Assaulting Another Agent

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The New ‘In The Heights’ Trailer Is Out And You’ll Wish You Were In This Latino Fairytale

Entertainment

The New ‘In The Heights’ Trailer Is Out And You’ll Wish You Were In This Latino Fairytale

There is a new “In The Heights” trailer and release date and fans are getting excited (again)! This is the second time that Warner Bros. has released a trailer to tease the release of “In The Heights” but Covid derailed its first release. Here’s to summer of 2021!

Here’s the new trailer for “In The Heights.”

“In The Heights” is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first wildly successful musical before “Hamilton. The show is based in Washington Heights, a Latino and immigrant enclave in New York City where music runs through the streets and the residents.

Usnavi, portrayed by Anthony Ramos, is the protagonist who is central to the community. He runs a bodega that everyone visits and it isn’t long until he and his large community fight back to protect their friends and family.

The story has it all from love to despair to triumph.

Usnavi is in love with Vanessa, portrayed by Melissa Barrera, and their love story grows alongside the community through the summer. At the same time, it seems that Abuela Claudia, portrayed by Olga Merediz, is facing deportation and the community comes to her defense to keep her here.

Miranda and Jon M. Cho, the director of “Crazy Rich Asians,” beautifully captured the resilience and diversity of our neighborhoods. Actors Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, and Leslie Grace bring the play to life on the big screen in a big way.

Fans cannot wait to see the new movie offering Latinos so much representation.

People have been anxiously waiting for this moment since 2008. That was the year that Universal Pictures announced their plans to make the movie adaptation of the play. It was supposed to be released in 2011 until Universals Pictures dropped the project. Then The Weinstein Company acquired the rights, however, Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct came to light and Miranda pulled the rights in response. Warner Bros. then got the rights in 2018 and we had our first trailer in 2019. It was slated to be released in June 2020 and the Covid caused the company to cancel the movie’s release. Now, with a deal with HBOMax, Warner Bros. will finally release “In The Heights” more than 10 years after fans were promised a movie.

“In The Heights” will be on HBOMax on June 18, 2021.

READ: The Trailer For ‘In The Heights’ Is Finally Here And It Looks Like A Latino Fairytale

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Lady Gaga’s Dog Walker Speaks Out About Shooting That Left Him With A ‘very close call with death’

Entertainment

Lady Gaga’s Dog Walker Speaks Out About Shooting That Left Him With A ‘very close call with death’

Lady Gaga’s dog walker and friend has had a nightmare of a week.

Ryan Fischer garnered public attention last week after he was shot while walking the pop singer’s three French bulldogs. The altercation not only resulted in him being harmed but shockingly included the kidnapping of two of the singer’s dogs.

Now, after days of reports and speculation, he is speaking out publicly for the first time since being attacked.

In a set of Instagram posts Monday, Fischer said he is “still in recovery from a very close call with death.”

Describing himself as being “humbled and grateful” Fischer thanked his followers for the love and support he has received in the days after his attack. Fischer also thanked the first responders and neighbors who called for help on his behalf as well as Lady Gaga herself.

“Your babies are back and the family is whole… we did it! You have shown so much support throughout this whole crisis to both me and my family. But your support as a friend, despite your own traumatic loss from your kids, was unwavering. I love you and thank you,” Fisher wrote.

Last Friday, Gaga’s two dogs, who were stolen from Fischer, were safely returned by an unknown woman.

At the time of her dogs’, Koji and Gustav, disappearance Lady Gaga offered a $500,000 reward for their safe return.

In his posts, Fischer recounted how Asia, Gaga’s third dog who was not, taken, stayed with him after he’d been shot. Fisher claimed that “while a car sped away and blood poured from my gunshot wound.”Asia stayed next to him while he bled .”I will write and say more later, but the gratitude for all the love I feel from around this planet is immense and intense. I felt your healing support! Thank you.”

The Los Angeles Police Department remains looking into the incident and the two men responsible for the attack are still at large.

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